Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shakespeare's Aristocratic Settings

Opinions, attitudes and interests of Shake-Speare and Bacon

Aristocratic Settings of the Plays

An author is often advised to write about what he knows best, and the most do. So it is of some significance that for all but two of his plays Shake-Speare selected plots with aristocratic settings. They take place in courts and palaces, and the characters are Kings, Queens, dukes and other lofty personages. This is so whether the play is a history play, a romance, a fantasy or a comedy. True, plays of high life were popular with Elizabethan audiences and other playwrights penned them. But they also wrote plays with other settings. No other major playwright was so drawn as Shake-Speare to the aristocratic milieu. The two exceptions in his work are The Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice, which are about the misfortunes of middle class merchants. One would expect Shakspere to have written quite a lot about life in contemporary London, both in inclination and because there was a market for plays of that genre. As Louis B. Wright wrote in his Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England (1935), p. 631: "The non-satirical play dealing with domestic situations, based on the lives of ordinary people, found in the average citizen an eager spectator". Nearly all the playwrights of the period, such as Chapman, Middleton and Decker, were locating at least some of their plays in the contemporary London of their residence. One such play was Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599) which presents an idealized picture of citizen life. Nor does one find in Shake-Speare's plays any trace of humble country pursuits such as practiced around Stratford or elsewhere - no village green, maypole, Fair, market, harvest, haymaking, reaping, fruit-picking.

Though Shake-Speare never wrote a play about lower class life anywhere, he did occasionally inject scenes of low life. Stratfordians argue that he handles these as well as his scenes of aristocratic life. But as Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre) once wrote in an essay entitle "What's In a Name" in Realities (English Language Edition, Nov 1962): "The independent sub-noble world of artisans and craftsmen, if it exists for Shakespeare, exists only as his butt. Bottom, Quince, Snug, Dogberry and Verges - these poor imbeciles are used only to amuse the nobility by their clumsiness. Even the middle classes are scarcely better treated".

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